Beyonce’s in a spot of bother right now, as she’s just joined the not-so-proud club of performing artists who’ve been caught sans guide track. But hopefully she can take some solace in knowing that her music still brings people together.
A new video of the frequently copied dance from Beyonce’s pop smash viral hit, Single Ladies, has wracked up nearly 300,000 views in two days. What’s special about this one? Well, instead of one guy in his bedroom, Jaquel Knight’s choreography is being performed by a hundred women in heels and leotards. Oh, and it’s being performed in the middle of London’s Piccadilly Circus.
This sort of Improv Everywhere-esque stunt is most easily pulled off with the help of corporate dollars, and this one’s no different — the very title of the video broadcasts the involvement of Trident gum, which is sponsoring Beyonce’s November 2009 performance at the O2 Center in London. The upfront disclosure is due to the UK’s strict rules regarding the presentation of advertising, but it works to Trident’s advantage to mention it anyways, as the video ends with a plug for the Trident Unwrapped tie-in site, which appear to be running a Willy Wonka-esque concert ticket contest.
This is only the latest in “flash dance” virals, though, a phenomenon whose roots may be found in the Central Station waltz from Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King. And using it for viral ads is nothing new, either. The recent Sound of Music dance breakdown in Antwerpen Central Station was actually an ad for the Belgian talent competition Looking for Maria (an adaptation of the British reality series How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?). Meanwhile, T-Mobile’s big dance number hit 6 million views and at least six different musical genres.
Sometimes the flash dance format isn’t a perfect fit for advertising — especially the T-Mobile one (its message of “life’s for sharing” is a bit of a stretch). But I can’t blame companies for wanting to latch onto this phenomenon, as it appeals to all ages, it’s fun, and its lack of dialogue means each video can play internationally. Plus, there’s something fascinating at the core of the concept. By breaking the social contract for what’s appropriate in a public space, there’s a captivating element of controlled chaos, and the visual spectacle of large crowds moving as one has a way of communicating community on a primal level. Which means that whether co-opted by a brand or not, each video in this tradition is a pleasure to watch — no matter how many times you see it done.